Rocket scientist wants to encourage kids

Published 2:46 am Saturday, September 1, 2018

September movie, message event is Sept. 15

NASA systems engineer Dr. Virginia Tickles, the speaker at this month’s Movie and a Message at First Baptist Church on Whatley Street, said that she speaks to the African American youth of America because it helps for them to be able to see a woman of color achieving her dreams.

“I came from a very rural part of New Orleans,” Tickles said. “So I know that it helps for these children to see someone of color that they can relate to.”

Tickles joined NASA in 1989 as an aerospace engineer, supporting projects in ground operations, space transportation, engine systems and liquid propulsion technologies. Since 2004, she’s been part of a team of engineers and analysts who predict the costs of designing, building, operating and maintaining hardware for a variety of Marshall programs and projects.

Tickles earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tuskegee University; a master’s degree in systems management from the Redstone Arsenal branch of the Florida Institute of Technology; and a doctorate in urban higher education from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. She wrote her dissertation on the subject of “The Career Success of African American Women with Doctorates in STEM” — the science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields.

She found out about this speaking opportunity because she is a member of the Marshall Speakers Bureau at NASA. Speakers include engineers, scientists, and other professionals who represent the agency in classrooms from pre-school to college, professional and technical organizations, libraries, museums, and community groups.

“I saw the request that FBC Whatley Street put in to the Speakers Bureau,” Tickles said. “And when I saw that it was a predominately African American congregation I knew that I had to speak. A lot of these kids in the inner city or rural areas don’t have access to the opportunities that other kids have, so with my speaking, I want to reach these students that don’t have the opportunity.”

Tickles plans to talk to the students about reaching their full potential and being prepared for life after high school.

“I want to talk to the students about following their dreams,” Tickles said. “They need to be prepared for college and have a plan, even if the plan doesn’t work out they still need to have one.”

The movie that FBC Whatley Street is planning to show is Hidden Figures a story of “human computer” Katherine Johnson and other women of color who helped launch the first Americans to space.

Tickles said that she has only seen the movie twice and did not know about the story of the women until the movie came out.

“I have been with NASA for 29 years and unfortunately, when the movie came out, that was the first time I heard about that story,” Tickles said. “Black women have come a long way in terms of our contributions to STEM and to the space program. I hope the movie will encourage women of every color to choose STEM-related fields of study.”

Tickles said that if she had known about the original story early on in her career, she would be further ahead than she is now.

“The constant conflicts that I was dealing with would have been so much easier to work through if I knew that I wasn’t the only one dealing with them,” Tickles said. “It would have pushed me to work harder through the conflicts if I had known their story and I honestly think I would be further in my career if I would have known the story.”

The Movie and a Message will begin at 5 p.m., on Sat., Sep. 15, at First Baptist Church Whatley Street. The event is free and open to the public.